Keane has attracted controversy throughout his career. Stephen Pond/EMPICS Sport
midfield general

Opinion: Will the real Roy Keane please stand up?

The ex-United star is a complex figure. Paul Fennessy has Roy Keane in the psychiatrist’s chair.

IT’S EASY TO see why a significant number of people admire Roy Keane.

He is a man of intense principle. He gives the impression of someone who holds a very definite idea of right and wrong.

He was, after all, prepared to sacrifice what was presumably a lifelong dream – to captain Ireland at the World Cup finals – owing to a matter of principle.

His immense pride and, some would say, stubbornness, became apparent again last week. Speaking to The Sunday Times (print edition), he recounted a story in which he tried to buy a ticket for a Wigan Premier League game like an ordinary punter and was refused. Most other people would have shrugged their shoulders and walked away begrudgingly, but not Keane.

Keane – who once again believed he had been personally wronged – refused to walk away, notwithstanding the arrival of a security guard. Again, his belligerent nature was evident, as he felt a point needed to be made.

In a subsequent interview with Newstalk’s Off the Ball, Walsh argued – not unreasonably – that Wigan were now likely to look into their ticketing policy, just as the FAI were forced to commission the Genesis report in the aftermath of the Saipan fiasco. Not for the first time, Keane’s words conceivably made a difference, even if the manner in which he had conducted himself had been questionable.

And while Keane’s tendency to take a stand on such issues is difficult not to admire to some extent; he continues to be a polarising, provocative figure.

For someone with such a seemingly black and white view of the world, he is an immensely complex and, some would say, hypocritical figure (e.g. for his criticism of TV pundits during his playing career, only to become one following his retirement). Moreover, for someone who presents himself as a man of the people, he appears to have very few friends – practically everyone Keane has encountered over the course of his career be it Mick McCarthy, or one-time admirers such as Eamon Dunphy or Alex Ferguson, has ultimately fallen out with him.

Some people may suggest his unpopularity within certain football circles is solely due to his unflagging compulsion to speak his mind; however there are other reasons too.

For all his considerable achievements in football, there is an underlying malevolence that seems to be an inextricable part of Keane’s character. His pre-meditated and callous tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland, in which he deliberately intended to injure the player, epitomised his darker side.

Moreover, he is sometimes portrayed as a witty and thoughtful individual. Both the Saipan and Wigan incidents were instances in which Keane was trying to prove a point, so to regard them merely as impetuous outbursts is unfair, given the ostensible thought behind them. His MUTV outburst, on the other hand, was – if anything – out of character.

To publicly criticise both your employers and specific teammates, honest though it may be, belies the strong level of wit with which Keane is often associated. On the contrary, it demonstrates an aspect of self-destructive naivety in his character – an apparent flaw that was also highlighted by his surprise at the swift and ruthless manner of his United exit. Surely Keane, with all his experience, knew that he was far from untouchable, particularly having seen stars such as David Beckham leaving in similarly ignominious circumstances before him.

Keane’s tendency to speak his mind as a player has unsurprisingly also been evident in his punditry. (Neal Simpson/EMPICS Sport)

And while some may claim he has mellowed since then, the following much more recent quote illustrates his continuing lack of emotional intelligence: “On a night we got beaten in the cup by Luton, the staff came in and said, ‘Clive Clarke has had a heart attack at Leicester’.” I said, ‘Is he OK? I’m shocked they found one, you could never tell by the way he plays’.”

Keane has a reputation for speaking his mind, and it’s understandable that many people would find his approach refreshing, within the invariably bland world of football speak.

However, when he criticises a player who has just suffered a heart attack, you begin to wonder whether he is more than just “different,” as David Walsh claims. In fact, you begin to wonder about his psychological well-being.

So while Keane may be the best footballer this island has ever produced, he hardly deserves to be treated with the level of respect of ex-players of the calibre and integrity of John Giles or Liam Brady.

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